Celebrating Women in Engineering Day

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Tue Jun 22 2021

In honor of Women in Engineering Day, this interview and linked video features Dr. Monique (Aubry) Frize, who was the first women to obtain an engineering degree at the University of Ottawa (BASc EE) in 1966. She is currently co-editing a book for Springer entitled “The International Conferences of Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES): Changing the Face of Technology and Innovation” with Dr. Claire Deschene and Dr. Ruby Heap. The book discusses the legacy of the conference series, which was started by volunteer in 1964 and is an enduring global event. The book is part of the Women in Science and Engineering book series, which hopes to inspire women and men, girls and boys to enter and apply themselves to secure their future in STEM.

What’s one area of your life (whether work or personal) that your most proud of. And where do you feel you’ve made the greatest impact

I am very proud of my degree in electrical engineering (1966) at a time when so few women considered that profession. In the same vein, I am also proud of completing a doctorate as such work really pushes our intellect to its higher limit, in my opinion. My research in biomedical engineering led to a patent (1987) and to a prototype which is ready for technology transfer (2021). 

What are some obstacles/pushback that you’ve faced in your career as a scientist and/or in your efforts in the women in science?

Twice, an unqualified man was given the position for which I was the most qualified candidate. This was very frustrating. The men did not even have the required degrees and experience. However, I eventually found a new position as head of a biomedical department, which was very satisfying.

Who are some mentors that you’ve had in your life?

My first mentor was my first husband (Philippe Arvisais) who introduced me to engineering and encouraged me to enter into the electrical engineering program. Unfortunately, he was killed in a car accident 7 weeks after our wedding, 3 weeks after classes began. Another mentor was the president of the International Federation of Medical and Biological Engineering (Dr. Nandor Richter) who, in 1985, helped to stop the attacks (likely sexist) of two men who challenged my election as Chair of the First Clinical Engineering Division of the IFMBE. Finally, Dr Ursula Franklin (Prof. at U of Toronto) inspired my work on women in engineering after I was appointed to the Industrial Chair for women in engineering at the University of New Brunswick.

What would you tell a young woman who is considering science as a career path?

I would say that science is very interesting, but to be sure to choose the field that really excites you. Find women in various science fields and find out what they do and what excites them about their work. Make sure you take all the mathematics and science courses during high school years and choose a university that has a fair number of women professors and students in their programs. This would ensure a more positive culture and environment.

Why did you become a scientist?

I became an engineer because I loved math and science and wanted to solve problems. After the electrical engineering degree, my dream was to work in medicine but as an engineer, so I did a Master’s in biomedical engineering. I never looked back. Every day was interesting, with some travel and a good income. I was also easily able to balance work and family. 

What changes do you feel are necessary in society to move towards lasting change and true equality amongst men and women.

The answer could be a book; to keep it short I can recommend a few strategies:  

The active role that women engineers play in the profession should be described in such a way that parents and members of the public encourage young women to choose a career in engineering. (Canadian Committee for Women in Engineering-CCWE), April 1992).

Professional engineering associations must make employers of engineers aware of the particular perspectives and qualities that women bring to the profession.

Faculties of Engineering and Science must have plans and strategies to increase the number of women faculty and support and coach them to ensure that they attain higher professor ranks appropriately.  

What are some areas of research where women could stand to be celebrated more overtly?

Fields that are highly regarded. This changes over time. Nobel prizes are examples of what fields are valued. But that is often a masculine point of view!

What was it like being the first woman to obtain a degree in engineering at the University of Ottawa?

It was lonely at times and I felt different from the men in my class, although I tried to act as if I belonged. But as the only woman, I was not really a threat and my classmates were more like brothers. The professors, a bit baffled by my presence, were generally quite supportive.

What changes have you seen regarding women in engineering since you started your career?

Well that is a very long time ago, so changes in the number of women in the profession, some changes in the culture in the profession, but not where it should be yet. Some changes in workplace hiring and promotion but again not where we should be and it really depends on the employer… some are good and some are bad. There are still not enough women in decision-making positions.

Can you discuss your involvement in the International Conferences of Women Engineers and Scientists?

My first ICWES was the ninth in Warwick, UK. I also attended the 10th in Budapest, the 11th inChiba, Japan; I was Chair of the 12th and we created INWES there in 2002. I attended the 13th, 14th, and 16th. Each was different but overall it was always a good experience, meeting friends met at previous ones and seeing what women were involved in technical or science work and the gender issues and personal experiences of women. I enjoyed all of them.

Can you discuss the evolution of the International Conferences of Women Engineers and Scientists and how it has been embraced differently in different locations over the years? 

This is what our book is about, and it is a fascinating story… to be told in 6-10 months’ time. 

Watch Monique Frize's interview for Memoirs of a Trailblazer HERE.

What is unique about the Canadian Institute for Women Engineers and Scientists?

The Institute focusses on projects that are not covered by other organizations. An example is the creation of the Canadian archive of women in STEM fields which now covers over 400 archives across the country. Another original project being developed is the research hub which will collect and share the research programs and projects on women in STEM that are happening in Canada. Another project is the book on the history of a transnational organization such as INWES and its origins in the ICWES phenomenon. The book is to be published by Springer which expects a final manuscript by early spring 2022. 

Monique Frize
About Monique Frize
Monique Frize joined Carleton University as Professor in the Department of Systems and Computer Engineering, and the University of Ottawa in the School of Information Technology and Engineering, in July 1997.  She was the first woman to complete an engineering degree at the University of Ottawa (Electrical Engineering, in 1966). Monique was a biomedical engineer in hospitals for 18 years, then the holder of the Northern Telecom/NSERC women in engineering Chair at UNB with a national mandate to increase the participation of women in the engineering profession (1989-1997). 
Sign up to the newsletter

In 1997, she held the Ontario Chair for women in science and engineering until 2002. Dr. Frize published over 200 papers in journals and conference proceedings in the fields of artificial intelligence in medicine, infrared medical imaging, ethics, and women in engineering and science. Dr. Frize is a Fellow and Life Member of IEEE, was inducted as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering (1992), Officer of the Order of Canada (1993) and received five Honorary Degrees from Canadian Universities. Her book, a legacy of the Chairs she held, “The Bold and the Brave: A history of women in science and engineering” was released in November 2009 by the University of Ottawa Press. Her Memoirs were released in December 2019: A woman in Engineering: Memoirs of a Trailblazer, also published by UOP.


Author: Guest contributor

Guest Contributors include Springer Nature staff and authors, industry experts, society partners, and many others. If you are interested in being a Guest Contributor, please contact us via email: thesource@springernature.com.